4AD Records, 2015
The sounds that open the new Purity Ring record Another Eternity are an example of contemporary pop music condensed into a few sounds. The sparkling synths, the buzzing low end, the hard-hitting electronic kick drums, the flurries of hi-hats and snares and the soft, girlish vocals are at peak saturation right now, and when it comes to a band like Purity Ring, that's a problem. When Purity Ring first appeared near the start of the decade, their pitch-shifted vocals and jerking hip-hop inspired beats sounded like the future. On their second record it seems like in attempting to change their sound, they're no longer setting trends but following them instead.
The Canadian duo of singer Megan James and producer Corin Roddick became famous making electronic pop with a twisted sense of space and dynamics. The disorienting effect of the music was doubled by the lyrics, sung softly and sweetly by James, which often pursued themes of water, darkness, mutation, body parts and internal organs. This wholly-formed aesthetic that made their 2012 debut album Shrines a one-of-a-kind album has been largely stripped back on the follow-up. The irregular lurch of the beats has become something more standardised and where before Purity Ring showed tasteful melodic restraint, the tracks are now drenched in thick basslines and arpeggios.
The effect is rather suffocating. Tracks like "Stranger than Earth" and "Flood on the Floor" sound very much like what is currently lighting up dancefloors around the world, particularly the latter's blaring, serrated breakdowns. Where before the skeletal framework of the tracks forced listeners to pay attention to the tics and peculiarities of the production, vocals and lyrics, the sound is now blurred. Subtleties are lost in a sonic landscape that favours bigness and boldness. Songs stomp and grind where once they jittered and shook.
That is not to say that any of the songs are bad, they just tend to be somewhat bland, all fading into one another. There are highlights here - the pristine piano that characterises the quieter passages of "Begin Again," the transcendent chorus of "Push Pull," the dusky miasma from which "Dust Hymn" emerges, and the melodic and emotional complexity of highlight "Sea Castle" are all moments that will stick with you upon repeat listens. The problem with Another Eternity is that these moments are few and far between. It seems that in streamlining their sound, Purity Ring have lost something that was essential to it.
Another Eternity is not an unpleasant listen. The essence of Purity Ring is there, even if it is somewhat neutered. It's excellent that the duo have made changes to their sound, especially considering that they ran a great risk of becoming somewhat of a one-trick pony. If Purity Ring hadn't taken risks then we would not have "Sea Castle," possibly one of their best songs and almost definitely one of their most powerful. The song utilises the best of the band's aesthetic and applies it with a greater sense of focus, showing what this record could have been. The results of their experimentation of Another Eternity aren't always thrilling, and overall this record is a disappointment, but I would challenge you to try to hate it.